PREVIOUS: SMELL & TASTE (Part 4d)
BOOK: “What the Nose Knows....” (Review) ~ Avery Gilbert
GUSTATORY Learning (Taste, cont.)
People develop taste preferences based on what they are fed in early life, s giving children an opportunity to think about which tastes they do or don’t prefer encourages them to try new and/or new combinations of foods.
While our sense of taste & smell may seem less involved in learning, they are our oldest ones, so are often more deeply ingrained & intact than our other, ‘newer’ senses.
Altho’ most researchers assume that no one is a Gustatory Learner, those who do favor ‘taste’ as a way to express themselves tend to use words such as bitter, chocolate, minty, sour, spicy….
However, some do acknowledge the importance of this sense. The Forest School in a woodland setting (UK) have incorporate Gustatory & Olfactory education. They believe smells & tastes provide valuable links to learning & remembered experiences, much as Proust described how the taste of the madeleine biscuit evoked a string of memories. Students of all ages & learning levels benefit from Forest School activities which require them to use these senses, such as having a drink & snack while key information or explanations are made on forest trips, & cooking on campfires which lend their own special flavor to the food.
DIAGRAM: People use a wide variety of factors to decide if something is acceptable to eat. These include types of flavor, like how spicy a food is, how it smells, its texture, temperature & whether it’s something they want to eat for personal, cultural or religious reasons.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center (PA) is the world’s only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to basic research & publications on taste & smell. Their scientists come from many disciplines, working to understand the mechanisms & functions of taste & smell, to define the wider importance of these senses in human health & disease. They also conduct studies on chemesthesis – chemically induced skin sensations, such as the burn of capsaicin (in hot peppers) or the tingle of carbonation. Their experts are available to comment on how taste and olfaction relate to any aspect of our daily lives.
Tastes, smells & chemo-sensory irritants are often experienced together in food or beverages – such as a burning sensation when eating spicy foods. In this case, the trigeminal nerve ( responsible for sensation in the face. & motor functions such as biting and chewing) carries info about chemo-sensory irritation detected in the mouth & throat, while other nerves carry info about tastes & odors collected from other parts of the mouth & nose. All these sensations are combined in the brain to produce what we think of as the ‘taste’ of a particular food, but is actually a combination of inputs. ARTICLE: “Why does food taste so delicious?”
At the Institute for Food Research (UK), classes introduce students to the science of the sensation of taste. Subjects including chemistry, biology and food science, covering topics such as the nervous system, healthy eating, genetics, anatomy, molecular biology and organic chemistry.
One of their exercises: Pupils try a set of compounds that represent the five basic tastes. The solutions used are sugar, salt, citric acid, MSG & flat tonic water. Subjects should be able to identify these equally well with or without holding the nose, because these flavors do not depend on smell.
Research also tells us that taste & smell combine with other senses when tasting.
EXP: Color has significant effects on our ability to recognize flavors of soda. Experiment participants were less likely to accurately identify fruit-flavored beverages when they were unaware of the color. This shows a correlation between taste & vision. The greater number of senses used with taste, like smell & vision, the more accurate the detection of flavored stimuli will be. Since color plays a role in identifying flavors, then there must be top-down processing before we actually taste something, which starts with familiar knowledge & only then is experienced by the senses.
NOTE: SENSATION = bringing in info thru the 5 senses
PERCEPTION = how the brain makes sense of that info
Together they form PROCESSING, either Top Down or Bottom Up.
In any learning situation, associating a fact with a fun experience or memory helps to retain more information, so the love of food can be used educationally. Aside from Food Technology classes, taste can play a large part in the broader curriculum, such as:
• for History & Geography lessons, making dishes from around the world or tasting a famous historical food are fun for students & make for memorable lessons
• learning about Yeast Reactions in Science can be enhanced by actually baking bread with yeast & then tasting it, providing a vivid connection between the two modalities
• food can be used to demonstrate Irreversible Reactions in Chemistry, such as boiling eggs or making jelly.
So, although cooking/baking might not seem relevant to science, engaging multiple senses will in fact increase memory. Also, baking as a classroom group activity can reinforce team spirit & cooperation in students.
LESS: People being treated for cancer are keenly aware of how vital taste is – even when their sense of smell is not impaired. In the short-term, chemotherapy tends to produce many small sores in the mouth, a chemical aftertaste & numbing of the tongue – which significantly cut down on the ability to taste food. ALSO – Disorders of taste, long-term or permanent:
Ageusia – complete loss // Hypogeusia (reduced sense) // Dysgeusia (distorted sense) Parageusia (persistent abnormal) // Hypergeusia (abnormally heightened sense)
MORE: Super-tasters are people whose sense of taste is significantly more sensitive than average. At least in part, this is due to a greater number of fungiform papillae, structures in the tongue with taste buds on their upper surface. The ‘average’ person has about 184 buds per square centimeter, while super-tasters have around 425 pr cm/2.
Studies have shown that super-tasters require less fat & sugar in their food to get the same satisfying effects. However, contrary to ‘logic’, they actually tend to use more salt than most – because of their heightened ability to taste bitterness, since salt drowns that out.
ALSO: Patients with Addison disease, pituitary insufficiency, or cystic fibrosis sometimes have a hyper-sensitivity to the 5 primary tastes.
NEXT: Overview (Part 5)